Tag Archives: internships

Want to watch me talk in front of a brick wall for half an hour?

Last month, I gave a talk to some student journalists from Ontario and Quebec who gathered in St. Henri as part of a regional conference of Canadian University Press.

I occasionally get asked to talk to students, and like most professional journalists I’m happy to do so, because it gives me a chance to help others and because it totally inflates my ego to see so many people look up to me.

As it happens someone was there with a camera and recorded the whole thing.

About half of the talk (which is in English but has questions answered in English and French) has been posted to YouTube in three parts (keep in mind I was low on sleep and didn’t have enough time to prepare a script or even a list of talking points, so you’ll hear a lot of “uhh”s and awkward pauses – the question period is better):


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Last chance to apply for a Gazette internship

This desk could be yours!

This desk could be yours!

Friday is the deadline to apply for a Gazette 2010 summer internship. The internship, which is how I got started there, runs from May to September and is paid at a respectable rate, 80% of the starting salary for the position. The number of positions changes from year to year, but usually involves four reporters, a copy editor and an online editor.

The Concordia journalism department has a copy of the letter (PDF) sent to schools asking for applications.

Among the requirements:

  • Currently enrolled in a university-level program
  • Fully bilingual (being able to read, speak and understand French is essential for a working journalist in Quebec)
  • Have a driver’s license

The ability to write is also considered an asset (but then, they hired me, so their standards are flexible).

Concordia Journalism has a list of other internships, though some of the deadlines have already passed. J-Source also has a list of internships, though some of the links and information is out of date.

Intern season is over

Fall is a sad time around the office. Not only is everyone dealing with the fact that summer is turning to fall, the days are getting colder, vacation season is over and the kids are going back to school, but it’s when the interns leave and go back to that naive hope that they might someday secure a permanent job as an investigative reporter once they graduate from journalism school.

One by one, the four reporter interns, two editor interns and one photography intern finished their final shifts and went their merry ways.

Half of them are now back in school, getting degrees in fields that might actually earn them a living. The rest were recently spotted on highways across Canada holding cardboard signs reading: “Will profile your grandmother for food”

While a large amount of the reporters’ time was spent on the night desk, obsessively checking with the police department for news and sharing inappropriate jokes with the copy editors, they also managed to write a few articles longer than 20 words. Here’s a few examples of what they churned out this summer:

Megan Martin

Terrine Friday

Andrew Halfnight

Monique Muise

Journalism: It’s just for fun

The Globe and Mail has launched a new contest: Journalism Dream. The winners of this contest (one writer, one photographer) get a some-expenses-paid trip to Vancouver where they would become part of the Globe’s Olympic team in February.

Except, they wouldn’t be treated the same as the rest of the Globe’s Olympic team. While real journalists will get all their expenses paid, plus a proper salary, these “guest” journalists get airfare and hotel, a laptop and $1,000 spending money, which works out to $200 per photo assignment or article that they’re expected to write over the two weeks of the Games.

According to the rules: “Prize winner and his/her travelling companion are solely responsible for all costs not expressly described herein including, without limitation, applicable taxes, fuel/currency surcharges, ground transportation, meals, beverages, room service, gratuities, merchandise, telephone calls, insurance together with any required travel documentation, and all personal expenses of any kind or nature, together with any applicable overnight layover. … No further compensation will be made to the guest journalists for their submission of articles/photographs.”

Some of you might think that this is an equitable trade, even a beneficial one for participants in the contest, especially if you consider the $1,000 (which would be used for things like meals) as payment for the articles or photos.

What bugs me about this contest, though, is just that: it’s a contest. Becoming a journalist is seen as some sort of prize to be won, rather than a job to work hard for. And this, by one of Canada’s most prestigious newspapers.

One of the big problems facing journalists these days is this impression people have that it’s somehow glamorous. So many people want to become TV reporters or newspaper columnists, and so few positions are available, that the cost of journalism is being brought down (the law of supply and demand). Freelancing rates have been stagnant (or even decreasing) for decades as inflation has reduced the value of those rates. New outlets (both traditional and new media) use “citizen journalism” as a code word for replacing expensive professionals with amateurs willing to do the work for free in exchange for what they hope will be fame or recognition (in the end, that never comes – even TV reporters and newspaper columnists can walk around town without being noticed).

CBC Radio’s The Current explored the issue of internships on Thursday (after an article in the New York Times about people paying to get unpaid internships), and it’s no surprise that media interns were a big part of that. (For others, you can check out the Unfair Internships blog).

I realize I’m part of the problem here. I took two unpaid one-week internships (one at the West Island Chronicle, another at CBC which led to a handful of paid shifts in radio), though I should point out that neither of those were major factors in getting my current job (which began with a paid internship).

I also work for free for this blog (though in that case, at least I’m exploiting myself and marketing myself at the same time). Though a few people stop me to say they love it (one cute girl told me that last night, in fact), I don’t pretend that I’ll get famous or rich through it, or that it will ever replace the work done by professional investigative journalists.

Still, the thought of turning this into a contest prize giveaway like some cheap laptop…

How to score a newspaper internship (I think)

I promised an aspiring student journalist I’d post this to my blog a while ago, but never got around to it. Apologies if she’s been checking this site every day since.

In March, I was invited to give a talk to a group of students from university newspapers across Quebec and Ontario at a regional conference of Canadian University Press. Unfortunately, I was up against Todd van der Heyden, so my audience was small.

I talked about a few random things, like blogging, copy editing and freelancing. I also figured these kids would like some tips on how to get a job once they graduate, so I dug up my old internship application for The Gazette.

It was the fall of 2004, and I really wanted a job at the local anglo newspaper. I collected clippings (I selected five stories that I wrote, edited and laid out myself), compiled a CV that highlighted my experience in the student press, and wrote a cover letter.

I also included this:

A page from my internship application to The Gazette

A page from my internship application to The Gazette

Since I was applying mainly to be a copy editor, I figured I needed to demonstrate my skills. I took a page from the newspaper (I went through a couple before I found one with enough errors), scanned it and pointed out things that were wrong with it. It took me hours to lay it out properly, but it was worth it.

In January 2005, when I was interviewed by then-city editor George Kalogerakis, he asked me the usual boilerplate questions (I completely bombed a question that asked me for story ideas – among my answers were “it’s winter … maybe a story about that?”). I quickly learned he hadn’t seen the special page I spent hours working on. Leafing through dozens of applications, it apparently didn’t catch his eye.

I’m not sure what bearing it had in the decision, but I got a phone call while I was at a CUP conference in Edmonton later that month offering me the summer copy editing intern position.

A few months later, when I first met my new boss (who wasn’t Kalogerakis, because he abruptly left for a job at the Journal de Montréal), she identified me as “the one with the page.” As the person in charge of copy editors, she’d clearly been more impressed.

Anyway, enough about how awesome I am. The moral of this story is that when you’re applying for a job, especially in an environment where demand is much higher than supply, you should consider thinking outside the box to get noticed. Companies get dozens of CVs for every job, and even after throwing away those with spelling or grammar mistakes, there are a lot of candidates left to choose from.

I had learned that lesson from Andy Nulman, the former Just for Laughs organizer who has since become an expert in surprise marketing (you can see him with his fly open on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on Tuesday). He had done a television segment long ago (I don’t even remember for what program UPDATE: Nulman tells me it was a five-part special for CBC Newswatch in the mid-90s) about resumés, and said candidates who want to get noticed should eschew the standard resumé for a “presumé” that stands out (within reason of course, it should still have a CV and references). He talked of a CV he’d received that was in an oversized envelope that said “don’t read this” (or something to that effect). Clearly, he couldn’t not read it.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader how this idea can be used to apply for other kinds of jobs.

Former Gazette intern makes me look unaccomplished

Heba Aly (slight dramatization)

Heba Aly (slight dramatization)

The way media outlets hire has changed dramatically over the years. Once upon a time, if a newspaper needed a new reporter, you’d just find the kid of a veteran reporter and assume that the journalism gene was passed down through a chromosome. It’s no coincidence that some of the reporters of today share the same family names as the reporters of yesterday.

But recently, as the demand for journalism jobs has far outpaced supply, the media have gotten more picky. The Gazette goes through a process every year where dozens of journalism students go through a screening and interview process, and only a handful of them are hired as summer interns.

Even then, most summer interns don’t last. The employees they replace inevitably come back from summer vacation, maternity leave or wherever else they went, and around September most of the interns either go back to school, move away or look for another job.

For many of those former interns, The Gazette is a footnote in their careers. They move on to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, or sometimes even greater things.

I was first hired as a Gazette intern in 2005. Along with me, the copy editor, were four reporters. One of them was Heba Aly.

I hadn’t heard much from Heba since she left the Gazette after that internship. But I came across her name in a news article. It seems she’s been expelled from Sudan where she had been working as a reporter, freelancing for outlets like Bloomberg, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Globe and Mail, though mostly she has been filing to the UN humanitarian news service. She’s been touring Africa, going to Senegal, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Ghana, and I’m pretty sure she had a two-week stint reporting from the surface of the moon at one point. She scored a trip there through the Pulitzer Center, after she’d worked for the CBC and Toronto Star. I got this from her biography page.

She has a blog with her dispatches to various news outlets, and a personal blog about what it’s like living in these places.

My CV, meanwhile, reads something like: Gazette copy editor: 2005-2006, 2008-present.

In other words, she’s making me look bad.

This needs to stop.

UPDATE: Aly speaks to Reporters Without Borders about her experience (via J-Source).